Sports Media Stories to Watch in 2019: Prime Time Sports

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail

 

Good morning sports media fans. Hope you’re enjoying the end of summer. 

 

I’d like to extend a special thanks to the people in the industry who reach out via email, DM, and text to provide feedback and background. I am very grateful to those who maintain professional working standards with me despite differences of opinion. Writing about job losses is not fun for us here at TSM any more than it is for you to talk about coaches getting fired or players traded. It is a fact of life in sports media and that is what we cover here. 

 

Sportsnet Drops the Axe, Again

 

In case you are just checking TSM, here’s the big news as of Wednesday:

 

 

You can read Nick’s farewell post here. Of note, his tweet count is down to 48 as of right now:

 

 

Bob McCown was quick to jump in with a signature hashtag:

 

https://twitter.com/FadooBobcat/status/1166745328890105862

 

Doug MacLean confirmed the news from earlier this summer that his perennial 9-month a year contract was not renewed:

 

 

Howard Berger provides some context on what this means for this season’s broadcast, citing the following anonymous quote from someone on the inside:

 

“You want to believe fixtures like Ron MacLean, Grapes (Don Cherry) and Friedge (Elliotte Friedman) are untouchable, but who knows anymore? The environment is absolutely poisonous. Every person I work with is looking over his or her shoulder.”

 

Steve Simmons added the news that John Shannon is no longer with the network:

 

 

On to the main topic of this post …

 

How It Ends

 

It does not take a genius to figure out that everything is up for grabs at Sportsnet since the departure of Scott Moore. After a period of ratings disappointments Rogers was looking to make deep cuts to their sports media division and Moore bailed rather than stick around and be responsible for firing many of the people – mostly white men – on whom he bet the future of the network.

 

 

Moore’s version of events is somewhat different:

 

“I’m a specialist in start-ups and turnarounds. And Sportsnet is no longer that. Sportsnet is a successful, mature business,” Mr. Moore said in an interview this week. “It’s always more fun to storm the castle than defend it. We’re defending the castle now. … I’m looking for that next opportunity.” – Scott Moore

 

In March new Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley appeared on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown, in what is in hindsight an amazing interview. Bob’s first question was about ending the competition for viewers between PTS and Tim&Sid. His second question was about what changes his new boss wants to make. It’s clear that Bob did not have any inkling that this man would sign off on his firing just a couple of months later. For a complete rundown on the McCown news, read our story here.

 

 

In the time since his departure from Sportsnet Bob has been vocal in tweeting out news of other cuts at the network, including his longtime paid guests and the syndicated mini show Grapeline.

 

 

While the 67-year old Bob plans his next move, Sportsnet has been busy trying out various combinations of hosts on 590. This is not unusual as many established hosts take vacation over the summer, however this year it feels very different. With the obvious vacancy in the drive home slot, a simmering mess in the morning, and a big question about the future of the Tim & Sid TV show, it is clear that change is afoot.

 

The Future

 

We will discuss the impending changes to Sportsnet’s hockey coverage in a separate post. Here we will focus on the radio lineup and the related implications for the TV side. At this point I’ll add my usual disclaimer that I am not someone who watches radio on TV nor do I have time or interest in watching scripted debate shows. I turn on my TV to watch live sports and nothing else from either SN or TSN. (If you have a deep appreciation for this sub-genre and want to write for us, email me).

 

 

 

American networks provide many hours of debate styled entertainment but Canadian networks don’t seem to have the same appetite. TSN canceled both Off The Record and The Reporters in the last few years and have not replaced either. At Sportsnet, Tim & Sid is their only “studio” show aside from traditional desk shows, and it is an odd mash-up of a radio show, an interview show, a pre-game show, and a clip show, with some prepared bits and arguments thrown in. Despite being alone in the marketplace it does not draw significant ratings relative to the highlights reel it replaced or the one it competes with over on TSN. The show’s large production budget was slashed in the recent round of layoffs.

 

Putting this all together strongly suggests that Yabsley may answer Bob’s question about ending the competition between the two shows by shifting Tim & Sid over to radio 4-7pm with some portion being on TV as well. If this happens the biggest risk is alienating the multi-decade base of PTS listeners, while at the same time losing the sub-45 year old audience to the rising stars at Overdrive on TSN1050. 

 

If they don’t intend to move Tim & Sid to the PTS slot, this means deciding between keeping the style of the old McCown show or skewing younger. Those two options are clearly on the table as 590 has been experimenting with a PTS led by Jeff Blair and a PTS led by some of the other names at 590 (Ennis, Bennett, Stellick, MacArthur).

 

 

This then leaves a question about whether the existing co-hosts – Deitsch and Brunt – would be retained or re-assigned. Brunt has been happy to be on radio or not be on radio so I assume he would gladly stick to doing podcasts and features. (If I’m Yabsley I demand/beg that Brunt do a weekly column and podcast. Despite leaving the Globe 8 years ago no one has been able to fill the void in the marketplace, and Sportsnet has criminally allowed him to shed writing almost entirely from his portfolio). Deitsch would fit on any version of PTS, though with his successful podcast and writing gig with The Athletic he might also be fine with moving on from Sportsnet. McCown was clearly part of the equation when he decided to move to Toronto. If I’m TSN I make a call to Deitsch and see if he has any interest in reviving a business of sports type show.

 

The MacArthur Factor

 

 

When you look at the talent pool on Sportsnet’s existing roster it is hard not to notice how quickly MacArthur has risen to the top of the list in his short time since defecting from TSN. While he was originally hired to be the new voice of JaysTalk he has transitioned to being the go-to replacement guy in almost every time slot that matters.

 

MacArthur is also a shining example of how to play your cards right in this industry: he is widely respected for his baseball acumen by the writers on the beat, and he managed to move from one side to the other with almost everyone wishing him well in the process. Compared to the high profile tribal antics by the likes of Greg Brady, Damien Cox, and Bob McCown, Scott has expertly walked a fine line in an industry where it is very hard to switch allegiances without burning bridges. TSN has to see the missed opportunity and may eventually look to bring him back.

 

At this point it is a given that Sportsnet sees more value in having MacArthur on the radio during daylight hours rather than hosting what became the worst call-in show in Toronto during Wilner’s time behind the mic. The most obvious slot for him is taking over Blair’s show from 9-12, and hosting the midday Jays show during the season. However, he has impressed so many people at this point that it would be premature to rule him out of the competition for PTS host. 

 

The other place for MacArthur would be as part of a new morning show on 590. No time slot has provided more news stories for this site than 5:30-9am on The Fan. Program directors at 590 have constantly sought to re-inevent the wheel here in a search for ratings gold. Just as a reminder, in the last 10 years we have had:

 

  • The Andrew Krystal Experiment
  • Brady & Lang
  • Brady & Walker
  • The Dean Blundell Show with Andrew Walker (announced)
  • The Dean Blundell Show without Andrew Walker
  • Brady & Price & Burrill
  • Brady & Docking & Burrill

 

Don Kollins broke up the successful pairing of Brady & Walker in the hopes of even better ratings with Dean Blundell. The results were poor and Kollins left, then Blundell was ousted just in time for Brady’s severance pay to expire. He was brought back at a reduced rate and paired with Price by Dave Cadeau in his first big move since taking over as PD. Cadeau then reversed course two years later on the 60+ year old Price and hired the first female host in a generation to 590 in Docking. 

 

Docking and MacArthur worked together over the summer and the pairing is, to my ears, better than Brady & Docking. So it is possible that Sportsnet management will decide that after 9 years of Greg Brady in the morning it is time to give someone else a try.

 

Playing The Odds

 

Given the cost-cutting directive at the network it seems highly likely that the game of musical chairs will end with someone being out of a job. I can’t see Sportsnet dumping Blair because he is protection in case the McCown move turns out to be a ratings mistake. The traditional audience would likely accept Blair as a “good-enough” substitute for the customarily comfortable curmudgeon they lost. The safest move is to go ahead with Blair, Brunt, and Deitsch (if they can afford all three) for the next few years. But this doesn’t solve the obvious Moore mistake of putting PTS and Tim&Sid head to head. 

 

One possibility is to move Tim&Sid back to radio, but as their new morning show. This could provide content for TV, while counter-programming Overdrive without taking them on directly. If the market responds to Tim&Sid then you move them to 4-7 when the time is right. MacArthur & Docking (or whoever) move to the old Blair slot. This isn’t a prediction or a proposal, just a reasoning out of the kinds of considerations Yabsley et al will need to work through before making their next move. 

 

 

Firing McCown was a huge risk given how easy it would have been to ride out another year and then wish him all the best in retirement. The new management at Sportsnet are either under tremendous pressure to make big cuts to their sports media budget or they are aggressively starting to skate to where the puck is going. Time will tell whether these moves turn out to be visionary or reactionary.

 

Previous entries in the “stories to watch” series can found here: Damien Cox, Podcasting, Sports Media Economics

 

Over to you: here are some polls to gauge your interest in some of the ideas outlined here. As usual, if you are in management at Sportsnet or TSN you are not permitted to view poll results without written permission from TSM. Results will be hidden for the first 24 hours or so to mitigate brigading.

 

 

 

 


thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

one of the mikes on this site

 

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